Tuesday 22 March 2016

The C word and the F word.... chocolate fondant pudding

Happy now?

It had to happen. Someone, someday was bound to ask for it. I suppose I should count myself lucky that it's taken this long.

Fondant - or as Greg Wallace insists FonDon' - has a bizarre reputation. Maybe it is just the MasterChef thing; the chocolate terminator of contestants; the dark destroyer of restaurant ambition. All it is really is a badly cooked sponge pudding. Badly cooked? Yes, because like all undercooked cakes it has a sticky centre. But when this comes in the form of chocolate goo, all's good.
Before the flood
The big secret is... they're not hard. You're probably groaning now yeah? "Not hard for YOU!" 
Ok, ok, caveat: making two isn't hard. You know, for the valentine meal with the single rose still in its garage plastic wrap? Making ten - that's an issue. It's a bit like fried fish fillets, or poached eggs - it is, bear with me - the timing is critical. A success is a matter of seconds. And by success we mean goo; the same amount of goo in each. But with ten puddings there must be a period of time between number one turning out and number ten. And if one should split... you'll need number eleven and a new plate. And I only have ten plates!

Of course, success only matters if we have to turn the puds out. If we left them in ramekins, there would be no such issue. So why do we burden ourselves with these expectations? I think mainly for cheffy pride: that it CAN be done so it SHOULD be done. Personally I think that philosophy is best expressed at the bottom of mountains. But no one seems to agree, so instead we have to find the exact moment when the walls of the pudding are baked thick enough to withstand a plate birth and the inside is thick enough not to burst its banks.
And the only way, the ONLY way to do this is by trial and error. Which is #1 reason why I don't like the CF. Waste. OK, so you get to eat the mistakes. But have you seen the size of me recently? I could do with fewer errors.

#2 is that unless you use excellent chocolate, the CF is a mediocre pudding at best. Luckily I have a large bag of Valrhona Guanaja - I opine one of the best in the world. It also needs a good dose of something light and creamy. The CF is a bit of a black hole.

Mentions of dark things brings me to #3. They are impossible to photograph properly, especially in kitchen light at night, which is when I tend to serve them. They absorb light. It took days of dedicated Photoshop work on these images to get them to a point where they don't look like there's just a hole in your screen.

And #4? You should make the pudding mix/batter just before baking. This is not a cook ahead dish. Yes, you can chill and even freeze the puds, but they will be denser out of the oven. For me, this means setting to work just after I've served the main meal instead of slumping against the counter and eyeing up my post prandial tequila.

#5. If you have to use a new oven, a different mould or, hell, even if the weather's changed, you have to do a new trial. Honestly, there's two minutes cooking time between a metal pudding tin and a ceramic ramekin. I suspect that's why the Mastercheffers fail; they've not had time to do a proper trial.

That said, they actually come together in about ten minutes and cook in about the same. Twenty minutes you will revisit, again and again... and again.

Be warned also: there's a lot of idiocy out there. Even Heston falls this time, with his frozen puck of mix inside blah, blah, blah. This recipe is unremarkable for a reason: it works... eventually.

Chocolate fondant pudding
Serves 10

Preheat your oven to 200°C and place a baking tray large enough to hold your moulds in the oven to warm up.

In a glass bowl over gently simmering water, melt 240g of unsalted butter with 240g of the best dark chocolate you can buy/afford. Once melted, remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Butter well your moulds of choice, could be an 8cm ramekin or a small pudding bowl. I use both and they both hold 175ml of mix (you can test with water and a jug). Dust the insides liberally with dark cocoa powder.

Whisk (hopefully mechanically) together 4 eggs, 4 egg yolks and 240g of caster sugar until very light and fluffy. Pale and buoyant - like a debutante on a Nordic cruise. This will take at least five minutes. Gently fold in 100g of plain flour (or four tablespoons if you like but you've already got the scales out). Now equally gently, fold in the cooled chocolate/butter mix until it's streak free.

Fill up your moulds, allowing a 10% gap at the top for expansion. Place on the baking tray and cook for... well who knows? Something like 12 minutes for the tin, more like 14 for the ramekin. the only way to find out is to try. Seriously. You must do a trial. The tops should be firm and the sides just coming away from the mould. The other problem is quantity. Ten puds will take slightly longer than four. How many did you use on your trial? Not ten I bet.

Rules of thumb:
Metal is quicker.
Smaller is quicker.
Fewer is quicker.

Anyway, when yours do finally emerge, up end them as gently as possible onto your serving plate and leave for a few minutes. The steam build up inside will help loosen the puddings. They should simply slide out. If not, edge around, between tin and pudding with a thin blade. Bear in mind that they will keep cooking in the warm tins so some urgency is required. BUT don't shake them out, unless you want to serve hot chocolate splodge. You might think about a dusting a cocoa powder as they are not especially attractive things. Tribbles anyone? Don't go poking anything in the top will you?

Or, leave them in a ramekin and maybe enjoy your stress free dinner! If anyone complains, suggest they bring dessert next time. And insist on a spiral croquembouche.

Take to the table immediately and tell your guests to tuck in quickly. Serve with vanilla or creme fraiche ice cream or maybe some whipped mascarpone and cherries.

Monday 21 March 2016

Creamy potato bake (Pommes Dauphinoise)

Pommes Dauphinoise to the French; pomme dauph, pots dauph, pots DORF or porpoise potatoes in this kitchen (Dolphinoise, y'see?), is one of those simple dishes that is much more delicious than the ingredients allow. Sliced potatoes, in cream, well seasoned with sea salt and just a hint of garlic. Both my boys relish the leftovers. They look over mournfully at the table if a guest takes the last scrapings; the final golden, crusty bits on the edge of the bowl. Like Yorkshires, this is a golden carb dish that always elicits an 'ooooh' at the table. It goes exceptionally well with our short rib of beef but works also with fish. 

It's a simple dish and recipes abound, however, I do mine slightly differently; in part prompted by supper club vicissitudes. Dauphinoise take a good 20 minutes to prep and at least an hour to cook. But, I can't have my ovens taken up just before service  nor can I accurately know when service will be. Guests have been known to be forty five minutes late. My spuds in cream would be milky mash by then. I needed my pommes to be dauphinoised ahead of time.

I also wanted to find a way to cook the potatoes that didn't result in the serving bowls crusted with burnt creamy dribble. in the oven, the cream bubbles and spits and makes a right mess generally. We're pretty informal in the restaurant but I don't want crockery that looks like it was in a bar brawl... and lost.

You'll need just over a kilo of potatoes for four people. I always use floury Maris Pipers. They are the least 'wet' potato and keep their shape and texture. I know some advocate a waxy spud but I can't be doing with that; all kinds of wrong.

Firstly, butter well an ovenproof dish or tin. Then crush in a garlic clove and squish it all around, ensuring no big startling lumps.

Peel and slice your potatoes. The thickness is important, as is consistency. I go for 3mm - like a pound coin (apols to non UK readers). I use a mandolin; this makes the task much quicker but it is certainly possible with a sharp knife.

By the way. You know that deep fried potato peelings make a very decent bar snack yeah? By 'decent' I mean tasty not healthy of course. Ahem.

Layer up the slices in the dish, pressing down occasionally.

In a jug mix approx  300ml of double cream with 500ml of full fat milk. Do use the full fat. Skimmed milk is just white water. If you're worried about calories, eat less. Mind, if you're worried about calories, what are you doing reading a Pom Dauph recipe? Season the milk well with salt and a dab of black pepper. Taste. It should be salty. Remember this is the only seasoning in the dish. I find this more successful that salting the slices as you go. It's easy to forget a layer and potatoes, like all savoury, starchy dishes, really need salt.

Pour the milk over the potato slices, just covering the slices but not so close to the dish top that it'll boil over. You may have some left over, you may need a little more milk.

Finally, a few dabs of butter on top.

I'm making enough here for a table of ten - plus some second helpings.

I now place the dish on a baking tray/sheet and cover with another, making a sandwich that's easy to handle, and cook for about 70 minutes at 150°C. This results in a dish of par-cooked, yielding potatoes, still pallid like a Scotsman in February, and needing a further blast of big heat. You should be able to push in a table knife without much resistance. Else, do another ten minutes. 

Actually I often use the oven timer and just leave the dish in the oven when it turns itself off. Otherwise, take the dish out and keep until guests arrive. You can do this even a day in advance - but in this case, place in the fridge.

Pots Dauph, all snug in their metal duvet.

Once guests are in place, crank up the oven to 230°C, remove the top tray and blast the potatoes for around 20 mins until golden and bubbling. If it's 30 minutes I doubt anyone will complain. A fan oven will help with the browning. I will often cook the potatoes while a joint of meat is resting, using the still hot oven.

Serving at the table can be an issue as the dish is very hot. We use some small wooden boards underneath to make handling easy but I imagine a tea towel would be fine for a family meal.

Friday 11 March 2016

Candied orange tart

The edge is a bit rubbish, yes. I'm blaming the tin.

You might see this as a giant and very grown up Jaffa Cake. Grown up in size, in flavour and in richness - oh it's rich - but sharp too. I needed something to serve with my new favourite thing: chocolate ice cream. It needed to be sweet and sharp and fruity... in February  Orange was the only way to go. I am immovable in my conviction that very few fruits complement chocolate. Orange obviously. Mint. Um... a raspberry at a push... if it was raspberry or death. But don't you go pointing a strawberry at me, or banana. Yuk. I've even seen - sweet Lord - pears with chocolate. That offends twice.

Candied orange is basically candied peel with the fruit left on. It's easy to prepare, the only thing to watch is the timing. Too long on the boil and your flesh will fall off the pith. No one wants that. It's a delightfully shiny and succulent thing, candied orange slices. They gleam appetisingly.

There are five element to this tart:
1. sweet pasty case
2. bitter chocolate lining
3. orange mascarpone cream filling
4. candied orange slices
5. orange syrup glaze

Luckily four and five are made together. It's not that onerous. The biggest faff is the case. This makes one 8" tart which will feed eight people, unless they are family, in which case it's four. 
You MUST serve this with my chocolate ice cream. It's the law. A little honeycomb would bring a welcome sugary crunch too, or some crystallised hazelnuts.

1. Sweet pastry case 

Makes two 8" cases.

Crumble together, by hand or in your food processor. By hand or by processor blend 250g plain flour, 100g icing sugar, sifted and pinch of salt with 100g butter, cubed until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Gradually mix in 2 eggs, beaten. When the mix comes together, gather into a ball and knead a few times until it is smooth. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for two hours. if you don't relax the dough your pastry will shrink. You don't want this. Pâte sucrée is usually easy to work but it helps a lot if it's chilled.

Once relaxed, split the dough and roll out half to the thickness of a pound coin, until it's a few inches bigger than your tin. I do this on a piece of floured baking paper as it makes it much easier to transfer to the tin and manipulate. Now drape the pastry over the tin and gently ease it up to allow it to drop to the bottom of the tin. Don't squidge it in, it will thin and tear. Carefully push the pastry into the corners and leave a good overhang. Repair any holes with additional pastry. Place the tin in the fridge for another half hour.

Blind bake at 180°C for 20 minutes. Be careful to support the sides of the case. I sometimes put greasproof paper in the case and then push in another tin. This will only work if you have two similar cake tins though. Else use, paper and coins/beans/rice; whatever you normally do. After twenty minutes remove your blind beans/coins/rice and cook for a further ten minutes to crisp up the base. You're looking for a pale golden brown colour.

2. Bitter choocolate lining

Melt 200g (one bar) of 70% chocolate, the best you can afford, in a glass bowl over boiling water until it melts. Stir in a tablespoon of double cream. This stops the chocolate setting so hard that it creates delicious but potentially lap damaging, table shrapnel. Did you know Shrapnel was a British general? True.

Once the tart case is cold, brush or back-spoon the chocolate paste all around the bottom and half way up the sides. As well as giving flavour and texture this also prevents the cream turning the bottom soft, so the tart will last longer - yeah, as if!

3. Orange mascarpone cream

Whisk 250ml of double cream until it thickens. Then beat in a couple of tablespoons of mascarpone. Into the cream - directly over the bowl, to catch the orange oil - finely grate the zest of one large orange. Mix.

Don't add the zest to the unwhisked cream. The orange oil inhibits the whip. I don't know why and I need to find out. Strangely there's nothing on the internet.

4 and 5. Candied orange slices in an orange syrup.

Gently heat a half litre of orange juice - real orange juice, not concentrate, either hand squeezed or hand bought - with 500g of caster sugar. Bring to the boil slowly so that the sugar has all dissolved. Boil for a few minutes. Add two oranges, halved and then sliced, as below, discarding the ends. Ideally these would be thin skinned fruit. We are trying for minimum pith here. The slices shouldn't be wafer thin or they will dissolve. Bring back to the boil then reduce to a simmer and leave on the heat for about 25 minutes. You'll see a change in the rind and pith as in the picture. The key word is 'candied'. They should look translucent, like boiled sweets. If in doubt, remove a piece and allow to cool. They will be very, very hot! The rind should yield to the tooth easily. If not, simmer for another five minutes. Set the whole lot aside to cool. 

To assemble:

Fill the chocolate lined case almost to the brim with the cream. Arrange orange slices on the cream in whatever pattern appeals. You probably won't want to use them all. Drizzle the whole thing generously with orange syrup. especially around the sides of the top, where the cream can be seen. Put in the fridge to firm up for 30 minutes or so.

This was the ugly prototype, when I didn't realise the danger of too high a chocolate lining.
No guest was injured in the eating of this tart. This was a family affair.

Thursday 10 March 2016

A chocolate ice cream to end the world

There comes a point in life when you think: that's it, I can do no better. I mean this in a positive sense, like finishing a marathon two minutes before a cardiac arrest, not in the negative sense as you glower at your spouse over another silent, sullen supper (or so my friends tell me). It is as such with my chocolate ice cream. How good? Trouser removing good. No, I don't really know what that means but somehow I believe it to be true.

The recipe is simple enough, make a chocolate custard and churn. The custard recipe is here, but I want this on its own page. If you've ever finished a bowl of Green & Blacks and thought: yeah, nice, but a bit sweet and not quite chocolatey enough (and who hasn't?) then this is for you.

The one thing I must insist on is that you use Valrhona cocoa powder. Please. No they don't sponsor me - I wish! They just make the finest cocoa powder. Do this one thing. You'll be a hero in your own household. Your children will do chores for you, imploring you to make more. You'll thank me one day.

Chocolate ice cream

Makes about 750ml
My quick way - needs a temperature probe, something more accurate than a sugar thermometer too. They are invaluable in the kitchen and much more use than a jam thermometer. This one is £6.  You can use to take the guess work out of meat roasting too. It's pretty much the only way to bake a beef wellington and retain your fingernails.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen...

In a jug, measure 250ml of full fat milk. To the jug add 130g caster sugar and a pinch of salt. Put this in a nice heavy pan on a medium burner, full heat. The amount of heat is important. Don't burn the milk. If you're electric, I have nothing for you.

While the sugary milk is heating, break four large egg yolks into the jug and give them a quick whisk. Keep the whites for something else. Now use your probe to check the temperature of the milk. It's probably around 65°C unless you are very cack handed with eggs. When the milk gets to between 72 - 75°C, pour the yolks in and whisk briskly. Now turn the heat down to half and stir with a wooden spoon. Within two minutes the custard should start to thicken to the classic 'coat the back of a spoon' condition. If it doesn't, call me and we'll talk it through. Whisk in 300ml of double cream. This lowers the heat and stops the yolks scrambling. If you suspect some scramble, sieve your mix before proceeding. 
Whisk in 80g of Valrhona cocoa powder and mix well.

Chill for several hours in the fridge.

Or you can do it the old fashioned (slow) way of creaming the eggs with the sugar then pouring in warm milk and heat - stir - heat - stir - heat - stir, until the custard thickens.

Either way, you should end up with a thick, cold, chocolate custard. Resist the urge for endless finger swipes. Churn it in your ice cream maker until set. Eat immediately for best effect or freeze for a couple of hours to firm up.

If you eat this from the freezer, let it thaw in the fridge for 30 minutes to appreciate it at best texture.

What to serve it with? I made up this candied orange tart precisely to partner it. Works well with crystallised nuts too. Or poached cherries.